The Top Six (Almost) Free Methods to Promote Your Novel
Promoting your own novel can't wait for when you get around to it. The mid-list crisis has evolved into an endemic condition. Constant merging of publishers channels promotion dollars away to an dwindling selection of luminaries. If you aren't famous (yet!) and lack a string of best sellers, don't wait for your publisher to push your book because the odds are they won't … much.
Here's the most effective and cheapest ways you can help maximise your sales.
#1 -- The Absolutely Essential Web Site
Most free promotion builds from your site, so put time into developing a solid one. You want people to keep coming back. Coaxing easily-bored surfers to return involves providing value for no money. Although you want to (and should!) hawk your books, they will visit for the value-added information you provide. You can always relate it back to your novels.
Does your hero spend his time investigating insurance scams? Many authors write in mileius they know well. Perhaps you could provide a page on your site that gathers links to the best of insurance scam sites on the web, or a collection of colorful anecdotes from real insurance investigators. Consider writing a FAQ on your subject. Your research when writing the book will have told you exactly what information is already out there.
The added value you provide doesn't have to relate to your novel, but it should stem from your own interests. The advantage to providing resources related to your books is that you are attracting potential readers who are already interested in the subject of your book.
Although you may pick up some direct sales as a result, primarily your website will be building product recognition. Visitors will get to know and trust you, and remember your name. If they've been using the resources on your site, and see your book at Barnes & Noble, are they going to buy it? You bet!
There are literally hundreds of sites that lay out the basics of good web design and promotion. Start with Inkspot's own Debbie Ridpath Ohi's "How to set up your own webpage" (http://ww.inkspot.com/promo/webstuff.html"). Another article, "Flexible Marketing, going cheap", written by this author, will help with the mechanics and design of a good website. (http://www.sashaproductions.com/flex.html).
# 2 -- Promote your web site -- systematically
Even if you've only been on the internet a few times, you're probably already aware that the other side of building a website is promoting it. But don't go at it half-heartedly. And don't just list your top page.
You've probably used and could name six to twelve search engines without scratching. List them. If you're stuck at one or two, try Netscape's collection of search engines: http://www.netscape.com/search.html. Many search engines have a list of other search engines at the bottom of their home page. Google is an example. (http://www.google.com).
Now, list the various components of your website. If you've developed a couple of good resources, you'll have natural divisions. My site, for instance, naturally falls into major categories -- current releases, past releases, upcoming releases. I teach creative writing, so my courses form another section. I also have a media kit section headed off by a page "about me". I have a contests page. And there's a growing collection of articles about writing. Then there's miscellaneous pages, such as the page for my free mailing list.
Once you've been improving and maintaining your own site for a while, you'll find your list is as extensive as mine.
Now, build up a schedule of search engine submissions. Each week, take one section, and spread over the week, spend a few minutes each day submitting just that one section to all the search engines on your list.
Every time you upload extensive changes to a section, you should go through the same schedule of uploading. This schedule will also help you test and maintain your site, pruning dead links, etc, on a regular basis. It keeps the maintenance manageable.
3# -- Finding potential readers -- newsgroups & email lists.
As well as enticing people to your site, you also have to reach out. Again, be logical about it. Brainstorm and write down a list of subjects associated with your novels, and the resources you provide on your site. EG: Insurance, fraud, mystery fiction, FBI, private investigators. Think laterally: Investigators might be interested in the book, but so would victims of insurance frauds. Fans of private eye novels may gravitate towards your novels. And so on.
Use this list of search criteria to ferret out appropriate newsgroups (try searching Dejaview for newsgroups -- http://www.dejaview.com), and email discussion lists (http://www.onelist.com, http://www.elistgroups.com, http://www.publiclists.com). You'll be overwhelmed by the huge number of results -- winnow them down to the largest and most active groups, and join up.
The idea is not to bang your own drum at every opportunity, but to be a good list citizen. Offer help when it is needed, opinions when you genuinely have something to offer, and make sure your website is listed in your signature file. (This is where providing resources on your site that match your personal interests pays off. You don't want to be stuck on a list that discusses tulip bulbs if you secretly can't stand flowers, but your fictional hero is a horticulturalist).
Not only will you be bringing new traffic to your site, but your contributions on the list will mark you as an expert, and provide more invaluable product recognition -- especially if the title of your book is in your signature file.
Swap links with related sites.
The search engine submission list you built, earlier, can also be used to search for sites and e-zines that might be interested in yours. For each informative and professional-looking site you come across, approach the webmaster about exchanging links.
Do this, too, when ever you have an event to announce. This works well with e-zines. For instance, I searched for "writing courses" and swapped links with other sites that would list the page on my site where my writing courses are listed. When I have a new round of courses starting, I approach writer's magazines, and offer a link or request a small announcement in their next issue.
Don't overlook web rings, either. Join rings that match the content of each section of your website, and install the ring fragment on the appropriate page.
Issue focused, tailored "news releases"
Every book release, competition win, best seller list placement, should be announced. However, plastering the traditional media with formal, generic news releases is a waste of trees and/or electrons.
Use your newsgroup and email search criteria, and the results of your related web-site searches to uncover editors, writers, and webmasters who would appreciate being kept up to date with developments in your career. This applies to editors, journalists, librarians, and book store owners in the real world, too. Start small, if you have to, and keep an immaculate address list, sorted into areas of interest. For each announcement you want to make, sift through your list for contacts who would be genuinely interested in the news. Then send them an "news release" in the form they prefer (you'll know that from your original contact). Whatever you send -- telegram, email, letter, release, fax -- tailor it to address the contact individually. If necessary, tailor the contents, too. Yes, tailoring takes time, and that's why you need to filter your list before you start. Tailoring will, however, net you a much higher "hit" rate (people who actually use your news item) than plastering a thousand blind news releases across the nation or the globe.
Think about a mailing list or newsletter
Nothing is more effective than a newsletter (email or web-based or both) for building a loyal following. But newsletters can be incredibly time-consuming, especially if you have a run-away success on your hands -- hence its listing as number five. If you're still writing in the evenings and have a day job to put bread and beer on the table, then think hard before committing yourself to producing a newsletter.
If you have the time, though, consider exploiting your area of expertise to deliver a practical, useful and information-packed newsletter every two weeks or month.
A very successful newsletter can become an income source of its own, as your selected, sorted group of readers will attract paying advertising, and the higher your subscription base, the more you can charge.
Quirky publicity stunts may build "heat" about this novel, but it can't be sustained over the length of a career. While none of these top five methods will make your book an overnight success, they will build long term name recognition based on solid reputation. They will, on the other hand, build a steady rise in sales, and a growing core of readers who won't wait for you to coax them into buying your next book.
Steadily climbing sales figures for each book will pull you out of the mid-list wilderness, and is the secret to a successful career.
(c) Tracy Cooper-Posey
First appeared in Inklings Newsletter as a shortened version.
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All contents, except where noted, copyrighted © 2000-2006 (inc.), Tracy Cooper-Posey and Sasha Productions.